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interview with Ali Alatas

Ali Alatas never thought that his training in law and a short stint in journalism would provide the best preparation for the job he would undertake for the rest of his professional life. Little did he know that when he joined the Indonesian Foreign Service in 1954 at the age of 22, Alatas was to involve himself in such varied issues as disarmament, reform of the United Nations, global and regional security, the imbalances in international economic relations, globalization, liberalization and many more in the arena of diplomacy.

In the 12 years as Foreign Minister, Alatas was not only Indonesia's principal spokesman in the international arena, he was also the initiator and formulator of his country's foreign policy. He contributed actively to the formation of organizations as the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77, ASEAN and APEC. As chairman of the Jakarta Informal Meetings and as co-chairman of the International Conference on Cambodia in Paris, he played a key role in the settlement of the Cambodian conflict in the early 1990s. He was also instrumental in the negotiations between the Philippines Government and the Moro National Liberation Front, which led to a peace agreement in 1996 that ended more than two decades of rebellion in southern Philippines.

Despite his retirement, Alatas refuses to stay put. As Foreign Affairs Special Advisor to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he occasionally serves as special envoy to a number of conflict areas. Most recently, he was selected to be among 10 members of ASEAN's Eminent Persons Group, which is tasked with formulating a charter for the Southeast Asian organization.

To this day, Alatas remains passionately committed to the pursuit of enduring peace. As he quoted in his book, A Voice for a Just Peace, "Only peace based on justice, on a recognition of the equal worth of all human lives, the equal validity of all human aspirations, can become true peace."

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Interview with Ali Alatas,
Yuli Ismartono [time 29:58]

Welcome to THE LEADERS. I'm Yuli Ismartono from AsiaViews in Jakarta, Indonesia.

It has been seven years since President Suharto stepped down, after governing the country with an iron fist for more than three decades. After a somewhat chaotic transition, the country seems to be slowly on the road to stability and recovery, although analysts say there is still a long way to go. Meanwhile, ASEAN, of which Indonesia was a founding member, has come of age and is in the process of evolving into the East Asian community.

With us today is Mr. Ali Alatas, Indonesia's former foreign minister and currently a member of ASEAN's Eminent Persons Group.

Yuli Ismartono: You have been appointed a member of the newly-formed, Eminent Persons Group, following the latest ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur recently. What is the role of this group and who are its members?

Ali Alatas: Well, the so-called Eminent Persons Group of ASEAN consists of 10 persons. One person from each member country of ASEAN. So we are 10. And we are tasked with coming up with ideas, suggestions, proposals and recommendations to the leaders of ASEAN on a possible charter or constitution of ASEAN. We are not supposed to write the charter ourselves. We are going to write a report in which we will present our recommendations, what the content should be according to us. But then the senior officials of ASEAN will probably form a task force and they will actually write the charter on the basis of our proposals, at least those which have been accepted by the leaders. And they are supposed to write down and we are asked to be bold and visionary, as they say, to write down our views on how ASEAN should evolve and how this charter could serve as a legal and institutional framework for the new ASEAN in the future. Because, as you know ASEAN has for many years been a successful association. Meaning, a rather loose organization, having no constitution or charter but quite successful in its work. But now it is ready to move towards a new phase in its existence, namely a community. And a community requires a firm foundation, a legal personality, but also an institutional framework which is capable of meeting all the demands of the new era in which ASEAN is moving and to which ASEAN is to adapt itself.

YI: Will the civil society be involved in this?

Alatas: Definitely. For a long time, we in ASEAN have been accused of being a rather comfortable club of the governing elites of ASEAN. (As for) the people's organization -- we are very much aware of that -- having served under Adam Malik, in the early years of ASEAN, Adam Malik actually very much propagated the fact that ASEAN should move towards (being) a people's organization. I was his secretary then. And he tried very much at that time, but the time had not come yet. But now however, we have a very active civil society, not only in Indonesia but in many other ASEAN countries. We will certainly listen to their views. We will certainly listen to the views of our parliaments, we will listen to our think tanks. We are going to make cohesion of this in our work. And we will certainly give the opportunity to all these groups, as far as possible, to present their views to us.

YI: A charter is usually the first step towards forming a community. Are the ASEAN countries -- with their different socio-political systems and economic levels -- ready for such a commitment?

Alatas: We have to be ready, otherwise we will be overtaken by events. We have been moving in the direction of a community but we still have divergences of views, especially in the political field. We have differences in levels of economic development. All these issues have to be tackled as we move towards a community. Actually, one of the points that has been stressed in the terms of reference that has been developed for this EPG or Eminent Persons Group, is how to find ways to bridge the development gap in order to avoid that ASEAN has a two-tier membership: those who became members earlier and who are generally at a different stage of development and those who entered later to form new members of ASEAN. We are trying to find ways and means for them to catch up as quickly as possible.

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Presonal Plofile
Ali Alatas Ali Alatas,
Born in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 4, 1932, Ali Alatas was a career diplomat until he retired in 1999. As foreign minister for the last 12 years of his professional life, Alatas was involved in a variety of diplomatic issues, from disarmament and regional security to the imbalances in international economic relations. He was active in organizations like ASEAN and APEC and played a key role in a number of conflict resolutions, such as the settlement of the Cambodian conflict in the early 1990s. Although he is retired from the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Department, he is still active in the world of diplomacy as the Foreign Affairs Advisor to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and as a member of ASEAN's Eminent Persons Group.
Yuli Ismartono Yuli Ismartono, [Interviewer]
Yuli Ismartono is an executive editor at Tempo, Indonesia's foremost weekly news magazine. Ms. Ismartono, who holds degrees in political science and journalism, has been with Tempo for 15 years, mostly assigned to covering events around the Asia region and interviewing national leaders - such as former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung,Cambodia's King Sihanouk and prime minister Hun Sen, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other newsmakers. She is currently in charge of Tempo's English language edition and managing editor of AsiaViews, an online and hardcopy magazine featuring news and commentaries from the Asia region, of which Tempo is a member and coordinator of the media group that publishes it.
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